I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not yet received an application. In the circumstances, I think that the best course for me is to discuss the question of a debate through the usual channels, when, I do not doubt, something could be arranged.
Although the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not yet received a formal application, information about the proposed deal has been made public by the Ford Motor Company. Although the formal application may not have been put in, will the Leader of the House tell us whether the Government have been informally approached about this? Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that he will provide time for a debate before the Government make their decision on this matter?
On the first part of the question, I do not think that it would be right or proper for me to answer questions of policy when dealing with a business question, which is all I am doing.
In answer to the second part of the question, my right hon. and learned Friend made clear yesterday that he would pay attention to all the points raised, but that he himself reserved his position in regard to taking a decision. But he is, of course, answerable to the House for any decision that may be taken.
I asked whether any informal approach had been made to the Government. It was not a question of policy, but a question which is relevant to the speed with which we may have a debate. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a widespread desire in the House to have more information about this whole business and that we really are in complete doubt about the reasons for this move? I believe that it would be in the interest of all of us if we could receive some kind of further statement about the proposed merger, and then have a debate before the Government take a decision.
I am informed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that no informal approaches have been made. I think that it would be much better to take this bit by bit and have discussions through the usual channels, and we might then attempt to meet the convenience of hon. Members while reserving, in particular, the reservation made by my right hon. and learned Friend.
Mr. H. Wilson:
Is the right hon. Gentleman telling us that there has been no discussion between Treasury officials or the Bank of England and representatives of the Ford Motor Company, in view of the widespread impression that there has been general encouragement given to the Ford Motor Company on this matter? Secondly, in view of the request made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, would the right hon. Gentleman consider making available to the House, in a White Paper, all the information at present in the possession of Her Majesty's Government on this matter? Does not the right hon. Gentleman recall that in the case of the Trinidad Oil deal, which was the first case of this grand process of liquidation which the Government have been following, a White Paper was presented to the House?
I cannot answer a question of policy in business time. I am not the Minister responsible. I can only give the information given to me by my right hon. and learned Friend, which was in the sense that I have just given it, namely, that the Treasury and the Chancellor have not had the sort of contacts to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. I will, of course, discuss with my right hon. and learned Friend the request made by the right hon. Gentleman about information but, in the circumstances, I do not think that we can carry the matter further today.
Irrespective of whether the Chancellor has had informal contact with Ford of America, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that there is a widespread impression that the Board of Trade has had communications with Ford of America and that through that channel the Treasury has been made aware of the interest of Ford of America in this matter? Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that such informal approaches have not been made to the Treasury through the Board of Trade?
I shall have to ascertain the accuracy of that. I simply do not know, and I do not propose to give an inaccurate reply in an answer to a business question, which is what Mr. Speaker has allowed. The answer which I originally gave might well be taken up through the usual channels and by that means we might make progress
Mr. H. Wilson:
Before the right hon. Gentleman takes further steps through the usual channels, which, I hope, will be quick, may I ask whether he will inform himself of the facts of this matter, because this is not a question of policy but a matter relevant to the debate? Does the right hon. Gentleman not recall that yesterday hon. Members on both sides of the House expressed their very deep concern about this business? Does he not think that it is highly relevant to the question of having a debate to know whether this has been fixed up through any subordinate Department or through the Bank of England before the House of Commons has had a chance of expressing its view?
Are we to understand that Ford of America allowed these statements to be published in their name with absolutely no indication from Her Majesty's Government whether this offer might be approved or not? Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House as much information as possible not only about this situation, but about what has happened in other cases in which foreign interests have held either part or the whole of the equity of the company, so that in this case we may have a comparison with the past of what might happen in the future?
I cannot answer the first part of that question, but in reply to the second part, I feel sure that it would be the wish of my right hon. and learned Friend to see that the House has the maximum information on this matter.
On a point of order. This is one of those occasions when I think your guidance is required, Mr. Speaker. The House gets into disrepute because of the sort of procedure that we have just had, where the Leader of the House is answering questions on behalf of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who is sitting next to him, is getting paid about £5,000 a year, and is not prepared to answer any questions. The Leader of the House says, "I will let my right hon. and learned Friend know and will ask his views". Is there anything that we can do to get the Chancellor onto his feet to answer an important question like this?
The hon. Member will be aware that what was here permitted was a question directed to business to the Leader of the House and nothing else, and that there are Treasury Questions tomorrow.
Further to that point of order. With respect, Mr. Speaker, do you realise that the question whether there should be a debate is one that concerns not only a small section of hon. Members, but all hon. Members in the House? Is it not realised by the Government that the anxieties of those——
Order. Even the right hon. Gentleman cannot ask me whether something is realised or not by the Government. I have not the slightest idea what they realise.
There must be some limit to the growing practice, because we waste so much time on it, of addressing to me questions which are not really points of order.
Order. Would the hon. Member be good enough to indicate what he is saying as a point of order? I must be stern about this, otherwise we waste so much time.
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House said he could not give an answer as to a debate because no application had yet be received from Detroit. The point I am putting is this: everyone knows that there have been discussions between Detroit and representatives of the Board of Trade and the Treasury on this matter. The anxieties of our constituents ought not to be postponed because of that kind of thing.
I shall require the help of the House about this. I hope that hon. Members will not usurp the time of the House by rising to address points of order to me which are not points of order.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You checked questions, as I understand it, because they were going outside the limits of a question on business, which is what you gave permission for. May I, with great respect, point out to you that the Leader of the House, in answering that question on business, addressed himself to an argument of substance relating to the debate, because, in order to excuse postponing the debate until after a decision had been taken, he reminded us of the undertaking given yesterday by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that all the points raised yesterday would be borne in mind? This is strictly on business. Is it not therefore legitimate, and in order, to ask him a point arising out of that remark of his?
No, because I brought the questioning to an end. Hon. Members should not presume why, but at least one of the factors in my mind was the desirability of getting on with business.
May I put it to you, with great respect, that that does not meet the case, since we were able to raise this matter yesterday only by questions? It is absolutely essential that there should be a debate in which we can argue the case at length—and this is surely a question strictly on business and not outside it?
There must be some limit to it. I do not suppose that I exercise my discretion infallibly. I cannot think, having regard to yesterday's proceedings, that anybody is in the slightest doubt about the desire of certain hon. Members to have a debate. I do not believe that the matter would be emphasised by taking it further now.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Did I understand correctly that you indicated to the House that, despite the topical and nation-wide interest in this subject, we must stop trying to get an answer from the Government because the time of the House for other business is passing? What is the time of the House for other than to satisfy our constituents on matters such as this?
I appreciate the hon. Member's enthusiasm, but I have a duty to perform to the House as a whole. It is not easy, and I do my best, but it involves putting a stop to supplementary questions on Private Notice Questions at some point. I do not suggest that I am always right about it, but the House must trust my discretion. Do let us get on.